By: Chris Bostic, Policy Director at ASH
Ending the tobacco epidemic is not only my job but a personal mission in life.
William Lloyd Garrison, the “Golden Trumpet” of the abolition movement in the 19th century, said “That which is not just is not law.” I would modify it for the tobacco industry – “that which is not just cannot remain law.” It is simply unjust to addict people to a product that is quite likely to kill them. And it is unjust for governments to allow it.
That is the simple truism behind ASH’s push to outlaw the sale of tobacco products. And it’s what motivates me, after 22 years in the field, to keep pushing.
I know we’ll succeed someday; why not sooner rather than later? There are a billion lives at stake.
You may wonder why ASH gets involved in everything from city council hearings to United Nations negotiations and from Colorado to Malaysia. It’s simple: we need to build pressure and momentum from every angle and enlist a broad movement that includes organizations focused on health, the environment, human rights, poverty, economics, and human development. Ending the tobacco epidemic would advance all of those issues.
We will be healthier, live longer, be wealthier and more equitable when the tobacco industry is out of business.
While ASH’s vision is global, we place a heavy focus on our home turf. Working on tobacco policy in the U.S. involves two unique challenges. First, our federal system means that some anti-tobacco policies can only be done at the federal level, some only at the state or local level, and some we can’t be sure of, which is why the number one argument of the tobacco industry in their myriad lawsuits is federal preemption (they rarely win, thankfully). The sheer number of battlefields is enormous.
The second challenge – and I’ll be blunt – is that the U.S. Congress is, as a whole, basically bought and paid for by the tobacco industry. This is not to say every Congressperson takes tobacco industry money. Many do not, and many are champions of public health. But enough do take tobacco money to make passage of meaningful federal policy nearly impossible, particularly in the current climate where partisanship stymies collaboration even on bills that everyone agrees on. The last major federal tobacco law – mandating a minimum purchase age of 21 – only passed because the tobacco industry gave their permission.
So we must choose other battlefields. If federal legislation is impossible, we can work with federal regulatory agencies like the FDA, the CDC, and the EPA. We can work at the state and local level. As you move down the ladder from federal to state to local, campaign financing as a tobacco industry tool loses power. Many city council campaigns cost little to nothing, leaving the tobacco industry without a handhold. And we can work at the international level, to establish global norms that will bring ideas and pressure home.
While the fight is complicated, it is also simple. We must put the tobacco industry out of business permanently.
At ASH, we are determined to do just that, not “someday,” but soon. I am privileged to be a part of this fight, and grateful to you for making it possible.
Today, I’m also honored to share that our Board of Directors has been so impressed with your support of our matching campaign that they extended the deadline to December 31st, meaning all donations made today through the end of the year will be MATCHED dollar for dollar, up to $30,000.
Thank you for your continued support.